The forced removal last week of the brutal Sudanese dictator, Omar al-Bashir, is good news for everyone who wants to see him finally tried for the Darfur genocide. Recently we’ve also seen dictators such as Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Abdelaziz Bouteflika (Algeria), Nursultan Nazarbaev (Kazakhstan), Ali Saleh (Yemen) go. It’s been rough for aging dictators. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that undemocratic rule is not disappearing but changing its appearance. Coups are out. The road to undemocratic rule is rarely marked by overt violations of the law. To the contrary, typically the best way to undermine democracy is to rely on actions within the law. Democratically elected officials are rewriting constitutions to do away with term limits, tinker with press freedom and gut democratic institutions. Uganda’s top court upheld a decision to scrap presidential age limits, paving the way for the 74-year-old Yoweri Museveni to seek a sixth term in office. Hungary’s ever more authoritarian prime minister, Victor Orbán, rewrote the constitution weakening the judiciary and paving the way to trample his opponents. Democratic erosion has followed a similar pattern in other countries (Poland, Venezuela, Rwanda) as well.
Curaçao is not immune to democratic backsliding. From 2010-2012, the government of Curaçao aggressively undermined the Central Bank, the Judiciary and the Intelligence Department. The same group manipulated the public who, rightfully so, is fed up with our current government system of coalition, to justify a constitution change. Thankfully we had people who saw the real intentions of the proposed new constitution: super powers for the executive, weakened democratic institutions and no checks and balances. Similarly, some groups now use the otherwise noble ambition of independence, as a cover to escape oversight by The Netherlands and create a free-for-all for wanna-be dictators.
We realize that Western-type democracy in general is ill-prepared for the fights against “short-termism”, incompetent politicians, disinformation, oppression by the majority, just to name a few. Yet, we shouldn’t give in to apathy. The time is ripe to fix what’s broken. Hopefully politically independent groups, academia and think-tanks will finally step up to the plate. If we don’t, others, inspired by what is going on in many places in the world, will get a free ride to undermine our hard-won democracy.